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Nerve: The hostile exuberance of youth culture

Nerve stays true to its premise and characterization in an adrenaline rush to the danger of virtuality mixed with reality.

Released in July, Nerve marked another joint endeavor between Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman after Paranormal Activities 3 & 4, and Catfish. Starring Emma Roberts and Dave Franco – two amongst the favorites of teenyboppers, the movie aimed at being a flashy, fast-paced summer teen flick that retells the modern tale about what could happen when we try to express true ourselves by taking uncontrollable risks. Based on the output, one can say Nerve succeeds on that premise.

Venus ‘Vee’ Delmonico (Emma Roberts), a high school senior with her nature to stay in comfort zone, feels too scared to sign up for her dream college far from home, Staten Island. Due to her brother passing away, her mother Nancy (Juliette Lewis) wants her to study at any of the local ones. After a public declaration of affection with her crush gone sour, Vee feels frustrated and decides to register for Nerve, an online interactive game that her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) previously suggests joining. Users can either sign up to be Watchers, viewers of Dares – for entertainment purpose – or Players, participants in these exploits, to earn increasing money every time they are completed.

The two leads: Dave Franco and Emma Roberts

Upon finishing several required (but subtly problematic) procedures, Vee sets out her great quest by kissing a stranger, later known as Ian (Dave Franco), for 5 seconds to complete her first Dare. Ian reveals he is also a Player in Nerve and that the following Dares force them to team-up for a while since Watchers adore these two together. He then takes Vee to the city while her (male) best friend Tommy (Miles Heizer) secretly follows. From then on, the Dares steadily escalates regarding life-threatening scenarios to Players. As Vee and Ian are taken to the last level, Nerve unfolds itself to be more than just a seemingly transient means to escapism and online fame.

Emma Robert and Miles Heizer

In terms of visual, the director duo Joost and Schulman obviously made use of intense and vibrant neon lights as the glaring background of urban nightlife: on the street, in the diner, and the tattoo’s, as well as Players’ @name_tags, if those count, particularly the shades of cyan and aqua blue. This suits well with Nerve’s overtone about the flamboyant frivolity depicted through the influences of online social networks to youth culture. For the soundtrack, Nerve utilized a long playlist of mostly alternative dance and electro pop, adding to the Tumblr-ish aggressively stylized vibe of its incoming exploitation. Overall, the style merrily matches the substance.

Nerve’s user interface

So what is the substance here? In the first act, Vee is thoroughly established as a typically nice, reserved gal with a high school crush, a female best friend who is hotter and more trendy than her, and a male best friend who, in turn, has a crush on her. On this note, it probably would have followed a somewhat conventional plotline with an underlying message about Vee’s venture into personal development and self-exploration to break through her boring daily routine of fear and anxiety.

However, the actual story comes out a little more than all that. Not until the real action kicks in do audience manage to figure out what Nerve was really about. The subtext comes to light as the plot thickens: Nerve is about the kind of toxic, detrimental interaction between two interconnected subjects. One is the ever unpredictably troublesome Internet community resulting from online anonymity, which abuses youth culture in both spiritual and material aspects; the other is the intermixed demand of permanently hedonistic entertainment and fleeting moments of hyperactive superficiality that immature youngsters are only able to meet with from the curious eyes of Internet world that converge on them.

The game itself represents the hostility of shady forces lurking on the Internet when they get their hands on users’ publicized information. Nerve’s registration process is simplified enough; it only needs names (as they already got facial images) and thumbprints (seriously?) to gain access to private information – from habits to relatives, as well as financial and social accounts. Besides, users’ personal devices also seem to be effortlessly hacked and taken advantage for the purpose of surveillance, similar to the mechanism of Batman’s sonic device in The Dark Knight).

The obsession with Nerve amongst youths

Adding on top of that is the growing number of registration from both Players and Watchers, as seen when Tommy sets up his account. Just a hypothetical circumstance about the usage of personal data from Nerve’s access to accounts and devices might freak audience out due to the fact that a lot of people nowadays get tricked by Facebook scammers in form of mindlessly fun apps. Towards the end, the movie introduces more and more obvious metaphor about troublesome issues like cyber bully, with relatable images of the anonymous ‘angry mob’ and the hostile or sympathetic ones – all revolve around a singular matter of controversy.

Nonetheless, in order to enforce its enthralling and fast-paced flow of narration as well as to maintain the mystery of the true antagonists behind this evil online game, Nerve must compromise with the cushy convenience of quite a few plot holes. For example, it never gives a proper explanation to why the personized representations of authority stay lukewarm when they hear of the game, or whatever happened to the people controlling Nerve after it gets busted by Tommy and his friends (the deus ex machina of the movie).

All in all, Nerve stays true to its premise and characterization in an adrenaline-rushed adventure into the danger of virtuality mixed with reality, and proves to be quite fulfilling in this aspect. If you like it, you might want to re-visit or check out similar movies like David Fincher’s *The Game or 13 Sins (mechanically) or Spring Breakers *(aesthetically and thematically).